Schools play a vital role in shaping the next generation of Australians.
But like any workplace, school employees such as teachers can suffer bullying and harassment.
Bullying and harassment in all forms are unacceptable in the workplace — here’s what teachers should do.
Right to work in a safe environment
Teachers have the right to work in a safe work environment. This includes a workplace free from bullying and harassment, as well as unlawful discrimination or violence.
Working in an unsafe environment can have a negative effect on staff’s mental and physical health, as well as impacting their performance and enjoyment of their work.
If a school fails to provide a safe working environment to its employees, this is a breach of its duty of care.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is the abuse of a person by someone else in a workplace setting.
It can happen to anyone in a workplace, not just employees. This includes volunteers, interns, as well as casual or temporary workers.
It can be physical, verbal, social or psychological.
Common examples of workplace bullying includes:
- Insulting, intimidating, or sexually explicit remarks directed at a person;
- Excluding a person from working with others;
- Deliberately assigning tasks which cannot be realistically completed.
Research conducted on behalf of Shine Lawyers found in the workplace, 35% of women and 6% of men have been harassed at work.
Types of bullying and harrassment in schools
The following scenarios are examples of where workplace bullying and harassment occurs at schools.
Teachers bullied by principals
Power imbalances between employees can make it difficult for the more junior employee to defend themselves.
In schools, there is a power imbalance between the principal and their staff, especially when the principal has input or controls staffing decisions.
Beyond principals, Heads of Department and other senior school figures can use their position to bully junior staff.
This can involve setting unrealistic work expectations or maliciously changing a teacher’s schedule, as well as general workplace bullying or harassment.
Teachers bullied by colleagues
A difference in seniority isn’t required for bullying or harassment to take place — teachers may experience bullying from other teachers, as well as admin staff.
A teacher bullied by another teacher may feel ashamed reporting it to a supervisor or feel they may be excluded from their peer group at the workplace. They may think making a report could harm their future employment opportunities.
Teachers bullied by students
While teachers are in a position of power over their students, that doesn’t prevent them from suffering bullying from pupils or parents.
In a 2018 survey, 80% of teachers said they’d experienced bullying or harassment from students or parents. In the same year, one-in-three Australian principals reported they had experienced the same bullying.
Even though parents and students aren’t employees of the school, the school is still required to prevent its teachers from being bullied or harassed at work.
What to do if you're being harassed or bullied at work
If you or someone you know is being bullied or harassed at school, consider the following steps:
- Ask the bully to stop. Firmly tell the person responsible for the bullying their conduct is unacceptable. This can often be difficult for someone bullied, in which case move to the next step.
- Seek advice. Talk to a trusted co-worker, your workplace’s health and safety officer, or a medical professional about your situation. They should give you advice as to what to do next.
- Report your bully. If the bullying or harassment doesn’t stop, you should report the person responsible. This may be through an official procedure established by the school, or an email to a manager.
When to seek legal advice
Sometimes workplace bullying can have serious, long-term consequences for the victim. If you’ve suffered physical or psychological injury from workplace bullying, or you’ve made a claim which has been rejected, get in touch today for an obligation-free consultation.
A claim run by our workers compensation lawyers for an injury sustained due to workplace bullying could pay for medical expenses, as well as time off work. Our team of experts offer your case the best chance at success.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: January 4, 2021.